I've just finished reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I tend to do a lot of my reading in public places... I meandered through Berendt's Savannah during slow times at the polling place on Election Day, during my languid dinner breaks at restaurants, that sort of thing. I'm not sure I could count the number of times someone came up to me and asked if I'd seen the movie... and I haven't. I likely will, but I usually prefer to read the book first.
The Secret Life of Bees is an exception. It's not that I didn't want to read the novel, it's that I ended up going to this film on a whim, mainly to spend time with my sister. That last part didn't work out exactly as planned, but we did see the movie together tonight at the charming Allen Theatre.
Let me say first that I don't normally watch anything that could be termed a "chick flick." Usually I put things like braindead romantic comedies in that category, but heartwrenching, dramatic tearjerkers like this one also tend to qualify. I probably wouldn't have watched this on my own, but I don't regret it. It's best classified as a Southern faery tale for some of its more unrealistic moments, but there is definitely a vein of darkness. The ugliness of Southern race relations in 1964 is always there in the background, but the heart of the story is warm, sweet and even a little treacly at times.
It made me a little uncomfortable, too... the Magical Negro device is here in the form of mystical August, Queen Latifah's character. August was also a nanny to Dakota Fanning's character Lily's mother, a bone of contention between August and her sister June (Alicia Keys). This made me uncomfortable for a strongly personal reason--my mother, born in 1950 in Mississippi, was taken care of when she was young by a black nanny, too, and she insisted upon coming to help my mother take care of me when I was born twenty-seven years later. Nora still refers to my mother and me as her "white babies," and I recall going to visit her after we'd moved up north... a few of her grandkids left her house in disgust, waiting across the street in a park until we'd gone.
My white liberal guilt and distaste at one-dimensional stereotyping aside, it's kind of amazing to watch a movie set right after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, to see Rosaleen beaten for trying to register to vote, and to think that forty-four years later, Barack Obama is our President-Elect. Plot aside, character development (or lack thereof) aside, this movie made me feel bad at times, made me cry often more than any film I can remember, but eventually left me feeling good about how far we've come and hopeful about the next forty-four years. That's more than I expected.